Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I, D, WF-Sag Harbor) has introduced a bill that would bring back oversight over PSEG and LIPA. The bill comes in light of PSEG Long Island’s failures in the fallout of Tropical Storm Isaias in August, as well as a state investigation by the Public Service Commission.
“PSEG-LI is a contractor for a public authority (LIPA) that has as its mission the supplying of a most basic societal need: electricity,” Thiele said in a statement. “Its revenue is generated by the payment of the monthly electric bill of every Long Island resident and business. As a public utility that all Long Islanders rely upon, LIPA must be subject to rigorous oversight to ensure transparency and accountability. I am proud to sponsor this legislation to protect Long Island ratepayers.”
Thiele, who voted against the LIPA Reform Act in 2013, said the latest bill is part of a package designed to restore public oversight into the utility. The act allowed LIPA to restructure, giving day-to-day electrical grid control over to PSEG Long Island. It also removed some of the oversight measures that are necessary for public entities, Thiele told the Advance by phone Tuesday. The assemblyman said the reform he’s calling for falls into three categories: more accountability and public involvement in the board of directors; increased oversight for the Public Service Commission; and authority for the state comptroller to oversee finances. The comptroller oversight was taken out when the LIPA Reform Act was approved, which means the office cannot oversee contracts to perform audits, which Thiele said is an “exception to the rule,” in comparison to the rest of the state’s public entities. Thiele suggested the board of governors for LIPA be elected by the public, rather than appointed.
Despite worries for the immediate hurricane season currently underway, in which Thiele expressed concern that a strong storm could render similar issues as those seen with Isaias, the long-term solutions remain a priority. Thiele said the structure of the power utilities needs to change for real improvements to happen, which is what these bills intend to accomplish.
“We have to look at this for the long haul,” Thiele said.
After the first part of its investigation, the Public Service Commission notified PSEG Long Island on Aug. 19 of apparent violations of the State Public Service Law (PSL), the Public Authorities Law (PAL) by its inadequate response to the storm. The commission found issues regarding communication with customers and local stakeholders, failures with its outage management system, inaccurate restoration times, and damage assessment. The investigation is ongoing.